Story of the Old Testament - Lesson 13

By Glen Pemberton

 Exile & Return

 Ezra - Nehemiah

Background Information for the Teacher


  1. To help the student grasp the basic story line of the Old Testament as it develops in Ezra and Nehemiah.
  2. To review the Story of the Old Testament and point ahead to the story of the New Testament.
  3. To encourage the student to step out in faith like those who returned from the exile.


  1. A Bible for each student.
  2. A chalkboard or marker board.
  3. Copies of Student Handout #13 (“Exile and Return”)


The Babylonian captivity came to an end in the mid 6th century (c. 538 BCE). Those who returned to the land faced three rebuilding projects: 1) rebuilding the temple, 2) rebuilding the city walls, and 3) rebuilding holy lives. This lesson explores these rebuilding projects and the persons associated with them. Finally, this lesson offers a brief review of the Story of the Old Testament and provides a transition (via Malachi) to the Story of the New Testament.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class:

Introduction: (about 5 minutes)

  1. Welcome visitors. Make any necessary announcements.
  2. Spend time taking prayer requests & leading the class in prayer.

Learning Experiences: (about 25 minutes)

  1. Review and set the stage for today’s study.
    1. Last week we studied the story of South Judah.
      1. South Judah existed for about 343 years as an independent nation (from 930 BCE until 587 BCE).
      2. During this time (3 observations from last week)
        1. For the most part, Judah maintained political stability (under the dynasty of David’s family)
        2. Several kings led remarkable religious & moral reform movements (e.g., Hezekiah and Josiah)
        3. God sent many prophets to Judah to proclaim his word and encourage the people to trust him (e.g., Isaiah and Jeremiah)
      3. Despite the efforts of such good kings and prophets, Judah continually turned away from the Lord.
      4. As a result, the Lord brought the Babylonian nation against Judah to punish her and turn her back to him. After a series of invasions and deportations, Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 587 BCE.
    2. Look for a moment at this conquest in greater detail.
      1. Read II Kings 25:8-12.
      2. Q. What three things did Babylon destroy when it conquered Jerusalem? A.
        1. The temple (25:9)
        2. The walls (25:10)
        3. The people ? exiled (25:11)
    3. Fast forward approximately 50 years
      1. In 539, Cyrus (king of Persia) conquers Babylon.
      2. Q. If you are one of the Judean exiles, what are you wondering about when Persia takes over? A. What is going to happen to me?
      3. Read Ezra 1:1-4. Q .What is Cyrus’ policy regarding the Judean captives? A They are permitted to go home!
    4. Today, our final study of the “Story of the Old Testament” focuses on the return of the people to Jerusalem and the three tasks of rebuilding that they faced. (This era of the story of the Old Testament is often called “Post-exilic” Judah.)
  2. The three tasks of rebuilding.
    1. Rebuilding the Temple
      1. A man named Zerubbabel leads the first group back to Judah in approximately 538.
      2. Reread Ezra 1:3-4. Q. What was the explicit purpose of their return? A. To rebuild the temple!
      3. By 536, Zerubbabel and the people begin work on the Temple. Read Ezra 3:8-13.
        1. Q. What were the two very different reactions of the people to the beginning of the work? A Some shouted for joy, but the older people wept (3:12). Q. Why do you think they reacted in these different ways? A. They were excited to begin the work, but those who had seen the former temple thought this new one would never be as great (see Haggai 2:3)
        2. Unfortunately, opposition forces soon stop the work on the temple. Read Ezra 4:1-5.
          1. Q. When does the work stop? A. Soon after it began, approximately the 2nd year after their return (3:8).
          2. Q. How long does the work stay stopped? A. Read Ezra 4:24. The “second year of Darius” is about 16 years later! Q. Why do you think they stopped for so long?
        3. The work on the temple does restart in 520 BCE ? with the help of two key prophets: Haggai and Zecharaiah. Read Ezra 4:24. Sermons from both of these prophets may be found in books that bear their names: The book of Haggai (see Hag 1:1) and the book of Zecharaiah (see Zech 1:1)
      4. Finally, with the encouragement of these prophets, the temple is completed in about 515 BCE (Ezra 6:13-15).
      5. One key task of rebuilding is completed; two remain.
    2. Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem.
      1. Sporadic work on the walls of Jerusalem had begun during the early days of the return (Ezra 4:12-16; 5:3,9).
      2. Mapping the chronology for the second building project is difficult but appears to begin in earnest in about 445 BCE (70 years after completion of the temple)
      3. Read Neh 1:1-4
        1. Q. What is the problem? A. The walls of Jerusalem have still not been rebuilt, nearly 90 years after the people had returned.
        2. Nehemiah, after obtaining permission from the king of Persia, sets out to lead the rebuilding of the walls (2:1-10)
        3. Soon after his arrival (2:11-16), Nehemiah calls the people together and challenges them to rebuild the walls. Read Neh 2:17-18.
        4. Nehemiah and the people face much opposition
          1. Internal Opposition:
            1. Not everyone would help rebuild (3:5)
            2. Some residents were in league with external opposition forces (6:17-18)
          2. External Opposition:
            1. Verbal assaults (2:19; 4:1-3)
            2. Threats of physical attack (4:7-8,11-12)
            3. Attempt to discredit or destroy Nehemiah (6:1-14)
        5. Despite the opposition, Nehemiah and the people continue to work. Read Neh 6:15. Q. How long did it take them to finish the walls? A. Only 52 days, once they got started!
    3. [Rebuilding the Lives of the People]
      1. The temple and walls are important, but only supporting factors in the real task of rebuilding the lives of the people. Rebuilding lives is far more important than temples and walls!
      2. Several people during this era lead efforts to revive and rebuild the people.
        1. Leaders such as Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 8-9)
        2. Prophets such as Malachi (take a brief look at Malachi)
          1. Malachi’s ministry most likely falls sometime after Nehemiah.
          2. Read a few sample texts from Malachi:
            1. Mal 1:6-10
            2. Mal 2:7-8
            3. Q Despite their exile and punishment, what is still happening in Judah? A. Rebellion against God!
            4. So, what is God going to do? Read 1 Mal 3:1-2
              1. Mal 4:5-6
            5. This prophet, in his attempt to turn the people back to God, warns (and promises) that the Lord will visit these people … but how and what will happen when he comes - - that is the subject of the Story of the New Testament

Applications: (about 5 minutes)

  1. Q. What is the “Story of the Old Testament”? A. The story of God reaching out to his people and the world in love to rebuild the relationships destroyed by sin (Gen 3-11). Q. What has happened to the three promises God made to Abraham? A.
    1. I will make you a numerous people (happened)
    2. I will give you the land (happened, kicked out, and then led back into the land)
    3. I will bless all nations through you (somehow God would work through Israel to rebuild his relationship with all peoples). At some points, Israel carried out this mission (e.g., Jonah). But for the most part, Israel failed to share God’s love with the rest of the world. At the end of the Story of the Old Testament, God’s plan to bless all the nations is still incomplete:
      1. Not all nations have been brought to the Lord
      2. The Lord’s ultimate plan for restoring his relationship to humanity awaits its full revelation and climax in the “Story of the New Testament.”
  2. Q. What aspects of your life need to be rebuilt? What forces are working against your efforts? How can you rebuild a life that is pleasing to God? (A. Stress our ultimate dependence on God for the power to rebuild our lives.)


Prayer that:

  1. Thanks God for the Story of the Old Testament ? the story of his determination to rebuild his relationship with us.
  2. Thanks God for rebuilding our lives when we fail.
  3. Asks God to help to complete the projects he puts in our lives and not delay or be discouraged.

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